Max Major Can Read Your Mind

The mentalist is an expert at unlocking cell phones by guessing the code. He brings his show back to the Franklin Institute this weekend.

Max Major returns to the Franklin Institute this weekend.

Max Major returns to the Franklin Institute this weekend.

Max Major’s job is to read your mind, whether that’s accurately guessing your phone passcode or knowing exactly what long-ago memory is in your head right now. The 32-year-old mentalist has been perfecting a not-quite-magic show for 20 years, using a mix of psychology and entertainment to wow — and possibly unnerve — audiences.

His previous shows at the Franklin Institute sold out, so he’s back for another run with six performances scheduled for August 26th and 27th and mid-September.

Major says his shows coincide well with the Franklin Institute’s exhibit on how the brain works, since knowing how the brain works is kind of his thing.

Being a mind reader is a pretty unusual occupation. How did you get into it?
As a kid, I learned a magic trick, and for some reason it really just spoke to me. It started out as a hobby when I was 10 or 11 and by the time I was 18 I’d been performing at kids’ birthday parties and company events. And then my dad got hypnotized so he could quit smoking and I was fascinated. I thought, if you could change someone’s life with your work, that’s real magic. That’s like a real-life superpower. So I started studying hypnosis and body language and psychology, and blended them with my performance background as a magician.

How does being a mentalist work? Are you doing “tricks,” or is that not the right word?
It’s really a marriage of a lot of different disciplines — performance, language tricks, shortcuts I’ve learned through reading body language. I’m not adverse to the word, but “tricks” implies it’s more of a magic show, which isn’t really what’s going on.

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So is paying attention to non-verbal clues, like reading body language, the main thing you’re doing?
It’s really three parts. The first is reading people — body language and facial expressions and the different clues people are giving off. The second part is about influence. I’m planting ideas in people’s heads and having them make decisions that feel like their own, but are really the course of action I want them to take. And the third piece is magic, using my background as a performer and an entertainer.

Did you ever have someone really freak out when you did something like unlock their cell phone?
People have a lot of different reactions to what I do. Sometimes they freak out and run away, sometimes they laugh, sometimes they just stand there with a blank stare not sure what to make of it. That’s part of what I enjoy, as a performer: Every performance is different. The reactions are what make it worthwhile.

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